EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The government of Mexico has opened a criminal investigation against top National Migration Institute (INM) officials in connection with the March 27 fire at a detention center in Juarez that claimed the lives of 40 migrants.

Francisco Garduno, INM commissioner

The officials under investigation for alleged omission of duty include INM Commissioner Francisco Garduno and several regional administrators, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said in a statement late Tuesday. A retired rear admiral who oversees the INM in Chihuahua, Salvador Gonzalez Guerrero, is among those facing possible omission charges, according to the document. Other officials named in the criminal probe include Antonio Andres Vidal Islas, Cecilia Sapien, Juan Molina and Eduardo Apodaca.

Mexican authorities previously charged five INM agents and employees of a private security firm on charges of omission of duty leading to injury and death. They’re accused of walking away from the center after a detainee set fire to a mattress amid fears of impending deportation. A Venezuelan migrant named Jaison, accused of setting the fire, has also been charged.

“The evidence obtained has allowed us to continue the investigation to determine the criminal responsibility of (officials) with the INM and the private security company,” the AG’s statement said.

Investigators said a similar fire at a detention facility in the state of Tabasco claimed the life of one migrant and left 14 injured. That happened in March 2021 with the same officials in charge of INM.

“That generated a recommendation from the National Human Rights Commission pointing to a pattern of conduct of omission of mandatory security measures. Audits conducted in recent years also clearly show faults and omissions inside INM pointing to a pattern of a lack of responsibility that has led to these regrettable events,” the Attorney General’s Office alleges.

But Juarez immigration attorney Jorge Vazquez Campbell said he was disappointed that the Attorney General is not charging top INM officials with more serious crimes. INM employees approached Vazquez Campbell prior to their arrest and told him they were following orders from a superior officer not to open the burning cell’s door.

“The accusation they’re facing is a minor crime, while the result of their omission resulted in the death and homicide of 40 human beings,” the attorney told Border Report on Tuesday.

He said a federal judge could still decide to charge INM officials with more serious crimes, such as omission leading to injury and death — the charges guards and agents are facing. But he doubts that will happen. “The judge must make a ruling based on the evidence he is presented. Right now, it’s an offense with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison, four if dealing with a first-time offender.”

Vazquez Campbell filed an affidavit with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office on March 29 stating he was told by the guards that Gonzalez instructed them not to open the cell doors when they called him to report the fire. “I don’t know if (the AG’s Office) investigated the call,” he said.

Border Report made repeated attempts to contact Gonzalez after Vazquez Campbell filed the affidavit but never got a response.